Victorious Young Sables receive heroes’ welcome

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BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
SCORES of jubilant parents and rugby fans screamed with joy, danced and sang at the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport yesterday as Zimbabwe’s Young Sables, who lifted the Rugby Africa Cup Under-20 Barthes Trophy in Kenya, returned home to a heroes’ welcome.

The victorious squad, coaches and officials arrived before midday a few hours after they made the nation proud by beating Namibia 19-14 in the final to win the continental competition.

The victory by the class of 2022 is Zimbabwe’s fourth continental win at Under-20 level and their first since winning three successive titles between 2009 and 2011.

More importantly, the success of the Young Sables has set the tone for the year for Zimbabwean rugby as the Sables aim to qualify for the Rugby World Cup when they take part in the 2022 Rugby Africa Cup to be played in France in July.

Young Sables coach Shaun de Souza, who vowed to bring the trophy home prior to his team’s departure for Kenya a fortnight ago, took the opportunity to appeal to corporates and individuals to support the team.

“We managed to do our best with little resources and we would like to appeal to the corporate world and anyone to support the team.  I believe there is no limit to what this group of players can achieve,” De Souza said.

He added: “We were ranked sixth in 2019, so we went into the tournament with that ranking and that is where we came from. Even the Rugby Africa president was surprised as he never thought that a team that was ranked sixth would be carrying the trophy home. That just shows how much work these guys have put in and the potential they have.”

The Prince Edward Tigers coach said the future of the team was bright with the majority of the players, who were in Kenya, eligible to feature at next year’s World Rugby Under-20 Trophy.

“This team is just phenomenal, what people don’t realise is that we had a 118-man squad and every time that I select a 30-man squad I am looking at the future. In the lead up to the tournament, we lost 11 players that could have played in this event. That would have been a blow in normal circumstances, but I was confident because I had the background of the players and I knew the depth that we had so we basically went to this tournament with an Under-19 team. From the 45-man squad we are losing five players, so the majority of the players will be eligible for the World Rugby Trophy,” he said.

Zimbabwe Rugby Union vice-president Martin Shone, who accompanied the team to Kenya, said the team’s success against the odds showed that local rugby was on the rise following an uncertain period due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This win shows that our rugby is on the rise, it shows that our schools’ rugby system is doing great. It’s a big positive that our junior rugby structures are working well and our biggest task now is to make sure we keep these boys together because they are the next Sables,” Shone said.

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